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Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - Hebrews 10:23-25)
Wisdom from the past
For help on how to handle this unprecedented pandemic, Ash Cunningham (Head of UCCF's Theology Network) has composed the following summary of Martin Luther's advice to Christians during an outbreak of Bubonic plague in 1527, which I hope offers some comfort and encouragement in the days ahead:
• Employ good hygiene
• Do not shy from medicine
• Do not put others at risk
• Avoid places where you don't need to be... but if your neighbour is in need – you DO need to be there.
• Do not fear death, but do not court danger – the Christian is fearless because they follow the death-defeating Christ, not because they follow a cult of fearlessness and folly.
Responding to Corona - How should we pray?
Nehemiah is faced with a crisis - does this sound familiar?! He is in exile working as a cupbearer to the king of Persia. News reaches him that the walls of God’s city – Jerusalem - are broken down and the gates are burned with fire. It is the biggest crisis of its time. This looks like the end for God’s people forever! Nehemiah is broken-hearted but before he does anything else, this is what we are told in Nehemiah 1:4-5:
“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said…”
1. Look up to a great God
“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands…” - Nehemiah1:5
Nehemiah looks up to a glorious and awesome God who makes and keeps His promises to His people. Not because His people are great but because He is great! Even in a crisis God is worthy of great praise and worship. He is the only great and awesome God. He is faithful and just. Upright and true. He keeps hold of those who love and obey Him. Look up to Him!
2. Look within and confess Sin
“I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my fathers house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly towards you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses” - Nehemiah 1:6-7
Nehemiah does not blame the crisis on God, on the government, on global warming, or on his foreign enemies. He looks within, within God’s own people, within His own heart, and within his own household. He recognises, acknowledges and confesses Sin against God, wickedness towards God, disobedience of God’s Word (commands, decrees, laws). This rebellion against God is confessed from within the hearts of God’s own people. This is a time to be on our knees confessing our corporate, individual and household sins against our great and awesome God. Time to confess the sins of ‘Self’: self-reliance, self-centredness, self-righteousness, self-glorification, self-pity, self-gratification…sadly the list goes on and on! Look within and confess sin!
3. Look forward to Jesus’ return
“Remember…If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.” - Nehemiah 1:8-9
Nehemiah was looking forward to a day beyond the inevitable exile of unfaithful Israel that God had promised. Exile was not a thwarting of God’s plan but a fulfilment of His promised justice and righteousness against their unfaithfulness. Exile is not the end of God’s people. Exile looks forward to the need for God’s ultimate rescue through Jesus.
God’s One and Only Son was smitten and afflicted, nailed to a cross, buried in a tomb, snuffed-out and exiled from His own Father. It looked like God’s plans had been thwarted. But no, God’s promises were fulfilled. Jesus is now risen and rules forever. Praise God for Jesus! ‘For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.’ (1 Peter 3:18)
Nehemiah also looks forward to another day when the covenant keeping LORD would gather His scattered people from the ends of the earth, to His eternal home, for the glory of His great Name (vs.9). We still look forward to that promised home. The day when the risen Jesus will return. All God’s people, the living and the dead will be gathered. ‘And so we will be with the Lord forever.’ (1 Thess.4:16-18)
The crisis in Nehemiah’s day was no surprise to the Lord and neither is the COVID-19 in 2020. His purposes are not thwarted but fulfilled. Praise God for Jesus in whom we have the certain hope of eternal life without sin, sickness, fear and death. Look forward to Jesus’s return.
4. Look out for one another fearing God not Corona…
“They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man [The King]” - Nehemiah 1:10-11
Nehemiah is passionate about God’s people and appeals to the LORD on their behalf and for the sake of the LORD’s Name. He calls them servants who are redeemed. These people are God’s precious possession bought at high price for service to the LORD, the King of Kings, whose Name is ‘revered’ or ‘fearfully respected’ above all names. We too are God’s servants bought at the high price of God’s Son to serve and revere Him forever. (Phil.2:9-11).
Servants called to delight in fearfully or reverently serving the LORD. What will this look like during COVID-19? Times are uncertain, many of us will become unwell, some of us may lose loved ones. Anxiety and fear are real and unavoidable. Who is mighty? Who is the one who has great strength? Whom should we fear or revere? The LORD. Our fear and faith are in the LORD who is mighty to redeem. Let us look out for one another not in fear of sickness or death, but in reverent faith, love and service to our LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ. Look out for your vulnerable neighbour. Share what you have with those in need. Pray for one another.